New York, New York, New Year (2010)

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

I know. I KNOW. And I’m sorry.

It’s been a number of weeks since I’ve posted anything here. Perhaps the longest time I’ve been away since I started this blog. The truth is I’ve taken on a project or two that’s been taking up more of my free time over the couple months and I haven’t been able to dedicate myself to the Radio Kitchen as much as I would like. And I really am sorry.

I’m not giving up this blog. At least not yet. But I’m not a good blogger in the traditional sense. I’m not so good at firing off quick and succinct entries, and my posts generally take some time. And there’s usually audio involved and research and rumination and it’s rarely a quick process for me. However, if there was actually some money in it, you can be sure I’d be packin’ this thing with content almost every week.

But I was inspired the other night. New Year’s Eve. And I didn’t have a gig. I didn’t have a party to go to either, and the girls here at the house were fast asleep. So instead of ducking into some local dive bar for some holiday misbehavior, I stayed home– like Jack Horner. In the corner. Just me and my radio. (And a recorder.)

And the result is this bandscan– an hour and twenty-minute crawl up the AM band recorded in my Brooklyn apartment as the year 2010 was sweeping over America. Right before midnight, I turned on my G5 and started crawling down from the top of the AM dial. A powerful Radio Disney outlet at 1560kHz is very close to my house, and that nearby fifty-thousand watt signal wrecks havoc at this end of the dial. So I opted to start this bandscan where their signal pollution yields to clarity– with a holiday greeting from the lovely and talented Alan Colmes on progressive talker WWRL.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 1
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And then, Radio Disney itself. Their transmitter (broadcasting at 1560kHz) is so close to me that I’ve heard their signal in on every possible band at some point, as well is in my home stereo and even on a pay phone down the street. On some of my radios, every frequency from 1530 to 1600kHz suffers from some form of Radio Disney intrusion.

Next up 1520, WWKB in Buffalo blasting in strong with a sleazy “get out of debt” commercial. Then a little “Auld Lang Syne” and a promo from “Federal News Radio” (WTOP 1500kHz in Washington D.C.). However, the magical odometer click itself is served Cantonese style at 1480kHz, WZRC. It’s quite exciting. Probably more so if you happen to be Chinese.

While I don’t know for sure, I suspect that this was probably a simulcast of the New Years festivities on the American Chinese-language TV network– SINO Television. While simulcasting obviously saves a lot of money, if you’re a serious radio listener you can usually tell the difference. There’s a lack of microphone intimacy, and the assumptions of visual cues make audio-only TV less interesting than real radio.

And then there’s a couple more ethnic notches on the NY AM dial– some pumping macho reverb from WNSW at 1430kHz and some kooky jubilance care of WKDM at 1380kHz. Whooooh!

And so ends all the “live” sounds of celebration captured in this bandscan.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 2
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“Thank you for inviting me into your prison cells.”

At first, I thought there was going to be a punch line. Or that there was something metaphoric going on I might have missed. But no, it was all real, just like prison. It’s some regularly scheduled religious inspiration for the incarcerated (with your host– a real "retired correction captain”). Although I typically I hear religious stuff at 1330kHz (WWRV) all the time, it’s usually a Spanish language scenario.

We pass by 1300kHz for a quick ID. I think it’s the ESPN Radio station in New Haven. And how about this Spanish language drama at 1280kHz? Wow. Give that guy a hankie. Man. Then a brief interlude with Smokey Robinson & The Miracles on WMTR, at 1250kHz in Morristown, New Jersey.

From 1250 we slide down to 1210– the Big Talker WPHT in Philadelphia, where they were replaying a Michael Smerconish program. He’s an odd bird, and the only right wing talk show host to support Obama in the last election. At least that’s what I’ve read on the internets. I don’t watch much of the talking head pundit shows on TV, but I gather he makes his appearances on a few of them too. And he has a shiny head.

Then on to some urban contemporary gospel from WLIB at 1190kHz. When Air America left the station to settle over at WWRL at 1600 they gave up a great signal for a pretty crappy one. That’s followed by some messy and overlapping signals. And then this clown…

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 3
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As if there wasn’t already enough meanspirited blather emanating from this Clear Channel owned Fox News affiliate (WWVA at 1170 kHz in West Virginia), they also see fit to let this hateful son of a bitch run at the mouth on a transmitter that might reach a third of the U.S.

It seems that all the major religions (especially the powerful monotheistic ones that dominate our world) have a dark beating heart of intolerance and malevolence somewhere at their core that leads some twisted "believers" to spew forth the kind of filth that tumbles out of the mouth of this old geezer, rambling incoherently about “judgment” and “vengeance” and “punishments.”

The particular brand of stupidity at play here is uniquely American and Protestant flavored, which seems to the most popular type of religious mental illness you hear on the radio. If you’re interested in getting some good hate on for Obama (and all the Catholics and Muslims and almost everybody else), then you’ll probably find something to celebrate in this fulmination. Happy new year!

I let that guy carry on way too long before shuffling down dial to Bloomberg’s “business” station at 1130kHz. It’s a panel of experts on the human brain. Wow. The trouble is (again) that we’re obviously hearing some TV simulcast. And we’re supposed to be looking at some incredible computer generated images of the computing machinery of the brain. You see anything?

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 4
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Then, the bewitching baritone of Art Bell from WTAM, 1100kHz in Cleveland. Since he’s retired (four times!) you don’t hear him host his old “Coast to Coast” show much these days. But he does often show up a few times a year– especially for his annual “Ghost to Ghost” program (with call-in ghost stories) around Halloween and then for his annual prediction (for the next year) show. And being a bit of a legend these days and rarely on the air, you can hear some real affection and fan awe from the callers who are able to get through to talk to Bell.

I used to be entertained by Bell’s late night sideshow many years ago. His love of everything radio has always been kind of inspiring to me. But I gotta say, he does sound uncharacteristically low-key in the samples in this bandscan. I guess he’s been though plenty of changes over this last decade. But you do hear a lot of people calling in predictions that are pretty dire and cataclysmic. And that, is typical.

Then we slide down into the lap of snarling neocon Laura Ingraham, care of WBAL (at 1090 AM in Baltimore). Then it’s 1050kHz here in the city, a frequency with a colorful history that’s been the home for a number of call letters over the years. These days it’s just WEPN– another syndicated ESPN yawner on the AM dial. Sad. And then 1010 WINS, one of the oldest all-news stations in the country (and they continue the teletype sound effects in the background to drive the point home). And here you get one of the joys of MW DXing for some, the local traffic and weather forecast. The crowds are dissipating in Times Square. And in the sky, a wintry mix. Meanwhile there’s been a few fire fatalities over the holidays. And through some unexplained turn of events New York City “apparently” has found some extra money laying around. A surplus.

And in a broader sense, I suppose that’s one of the things that make New York so appealing. Somehow, somewhere, there’s some extra money laying round. In a place like Detroit, not so much.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 5
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Mike Gallagher (AKAThe Smellster”) is one of the least evolved human beings I’ve come across in the national media. A man who does not seem to actually think, but just react to things (in a predictable and ham-handed partisan manner). And when he’s not scripted well, his program can really go off the rails. Yet he kind of sounds like Rush (which may account for his radio career), and his show is powered by the same kind of boomy and barely educated bluster Rush practically invented. Also like Limbaugh, Gallagher seems to get his greatest insights and inspiration from watching professional football on television. I suppose it’s almost like going to college. The fact that this guy’s show has risen into the low end of the talk radio top ten (at #8!) says a lot about the audience for this format today.

And while I’m all in favor of heartfelt apologies, this tear-soaked confessional from some a highly-paid prima-donna athlete is just so much difficult listening. However, to Gallagher all these sniffy regrets amount to a “life changing moment.” Usually all I get from the Smellster are “station changing moments.”

Then I move up to a man speaking in a language I don’t understand on another local “ethnic” (and brokered) radio station– WPAT at 930kHz. And then at 900kHz it’s the “old time radio” programming I’ve been hearing late at night on CHML for years (They’re in Hamilton, Ontario). It sounds like we missed the setup for the joke here.

Then into the nasty IBOC sound (in-band-on-channel) sound that surrounds WCBS at 880kHz. It’s an envelope of nasty digital noise that bookends the analog signal of AM stations carrying “HD” programming. And it’s also why you don’t hear WLS in Chigago at 890kHz anywhere near the city. And not a chance of getting WWL at 870kHz in New Orleans (which reaches well into Canada for some). 1010 WINS and WOR do the same thing. DXers hate it. And in many major cities you hear it across the dial.

On WCBS you hear about the eminent retirement of Robert Morgenthau. At 90 years old, Morgenthau had been the District Attorney of Manhattan since 1975. Amazing.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 6
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I really don’t know a lot about the CJBC, except that it’s a CBC powerhouse that broadcasts in French at 860kHz. And it’s the only significant CBC station broadcasting to the U.S. It wasn’t always that way. Years ago, their English service reached a large swath of North America from 740kHz. But there was a move to consolidate all thier broadcasting to FM, and the far reaching AM frequency was abandoned by the CBC. CHWO (better known as "AM740") is a unique musical presence on the AM dial in these parts, but the loss of a major CBC on the AM band is still a damn shame. That said, I think I’ve been hearing interesting music late at night at 860 AM since I was a kid. And the music varies so much that I couldn’t even qualify what kind of music I’ve heard the most on that station. I don’t know what kind of pop music is at play in this sample. It’s old. A show tune?

Art Bell again. From WHAS Louisville this time (at 840kHz). Another kooky caller. I wonder if Bell ever succeeded in giving up the smokes. His voice has that same nicotine gravitas as Larry King (and a bunch of guys who ain’t around any more). At 820kHz we find the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. I’m not a fan, although he occasionally has good guests. It’s local. It’s NPR. Then the inevitable Art Bell once again, on 810kHz, WGY upstate in Schenectady.

CKLW (800kHz in Windsor) is a funny kind of talk station that you don’t hear really hear in the states. Or certainly not on a big transmitter like this. I’ve never heard a "political" show on CKLW (but lots of centigrade weather!) And listen to the promo for the nightly astrology show. “Life might feel like a struggle…” Lots of self-help and health shows in general on this station. In America, AM talk radio is about personalities agitating listeners with propaganda all day long. And while there is certainly political talk on Canadian radio, they seem to still be able to have radio stations and call-in shows that aren’t agenda driven or enslaved by the news cycle.

That said, I really can’t listen to “call the doctor” talk radio for very long. All those symptoms make my stomach hurt.

Nothing really comes in until I hit WABC here in the city at 770kHz. John Bachelor, who recently moved into a nightly slot on WABC since crazy blabbermouth Curtis Sliwa took his little red beret down to WABC’s relatively new competitor, 970 “The Apple,” where he’s their new morning-drive entertainer.

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 7
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Now we’re at 760kHz. Detroit. (No IBOC from WABC, so the signal is still audible here.) There’s still a little crosstalk from WABC next door. It’s an ad for a drug rehab joint in the Detroit suburbs. The announcer says they can help “teens, college students, business people, CEOs, lawyers and health professionals” with their addictions.

I guess if you want to get a handle on the marketing of drug treatment services you could probably learn a little by decoding this list of less than socioeconomically diverse list of prospective "clients. Seems like they left the majority of common folk off this at list. Every style of addict mentioned here probably can afford their services, and some might have a willing (or desperate) parent who can come up with the dough.

Then it’s the ABC News. The world’s biggest pseudo-event of the season totally obscured any other feasible healdine that night. news focus for a few hours. Their reporter spends so much time “poetically” describing the panorama of litter and debris in the street in Times Square that it’s just a little weird. And sad for a major news outlet to lend so much weight and instant nostalgia to a run-of-the-mill clean-up scene at the end of a big party.

Then there’s three more quick headlines in ABC’s top of the hour news. And they’re all sports related. The last one is regarding the contract stalemate between Times-Warner and Fox, which was resolved a few days later. And the ABC take on this little media turf war was that if the se companies wouldn’t come to a peaceful resolution agreement don’t come to some agreement that a number of “Fox” football games might not air on Times-Warner cable the next weekend. Right before WJR cuts to local weather the football story is capped off with a sound bite from some media analyst. Although it wasn’t the intention, I think his words may capture some of the spirit and passion of our great nation as we enter 2010:

“There is no hue and cry louder and angrier than if you deprive the American viewer of football.”

I’ll bet that’s true. And ABC only has two minutes to encapsulate current affairs at the top of the hour, and this is what you get. No international issues. No war updates. And certainly no investigative reporting. There is no breaking news. Perhaps because the news is already broken. Tiger Woods? Still in trouble as far as I know.

At 750kHz you can hear WSB in Atlanta. But it’s not pleasant. Some nights this station comes in pretty clearly up here. But then again, often I come across a Neil Boortz rebroadcast on this station. This noise is more pleasant.

AM740 is a big bunch of noise as well, which is unusual. In 2008 this station changed hands, and changed call letters. No longer CHWO, it’s now CFZM. I don’t hear much beyond the overnight programming, and at that timeit’s still a MOR/nostalgia mix, only with more classic rock. But it’s still the only full-time music format blasting out a full (“clear channel”) fifty-thousand watt signal in this part of North America (WSB at 650 in Nashville is the only other one you’re likely to hear in this area). AM740 has actually been coming better than I’ve ever heard it this month. Like a local. But on New Year’s Eve the reception wasn’t so hot…

The AM Dial in New York, NY – New Years Eve 2010 pt 8
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Let’s listen to the radio horrors of wading through that IBOC racket once again as I approach the “analog” version of New York’s WOR at 710. (Which denies us the chance to hear both CKAC in Montreal at 730kHz and WGN at 720 in Chicago.)

The local news is still underway on WOR with Pat Wallace. The news is a little more substantial than the trivial world synopsis offered by ABC. The Joey Reynolds show reconvenes after the news. As an intro (instead of playing one of his many “theme songs”) Joey plays some old comedy bit he recorded during his top-40 heyday in the 1960’s. Let’s just say some types of humor have a longer shelf life than others.

As I’ve written before, the Joey Reynolds show is kind of an anarchic affair. While there are some focused interviews, more often than not Joey gets a few folks behind the microphone and lets it rip without much of a game plan. When it’s not good it’s pretty bad. And in this particular clip it’s not so good for Joey as an unidentified guest (a local restaurateur who apparently knows Reynolds and his thrifty nature rather well) gets the better of the old "shock-talker."

However, the real roasting occurs when Reynolds makes a few cracks about Dick Clark’s brief appearances during his “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” spectacular. As you probably know, Clark suffered a massive stroke a few years back and the once glib "eternal teenager" now speaks in a somewhat slurring and halting fashion these days. While trying to avoid sounding cruel, Reynolds makes a few lame jokes about Clark’s performance that night and then wishes that he just wouldn’t appear on TV at all. As you can hear, the guest (sporting a hardcore NYC accent) directly takes old Joey to task and doesn’t let up. You don’t often hear a radio host let a guest chew him up like this on the air. Instead of standing his ground, or taking on the animosity directly, Reynolds keeps running away, trying to change the subject. Odd.

If it wasn’t for the IBOC digital garbage on each side of WOR’s signal, powerhouse WLW in Cincinatti would almost certainly have been audible here. But not anymore. The first credible AM signal I came across is a messy read of a Bob Seger song at 690kHz. I don’t know what station this might be. Typically I get French talk radio from Montreal here. There’s an oldies station in West Virginia at this frequency, but I see they’re running at all of fourteen watts at night, And then at 620kHz– WSNR, kind of a sad brokered station hanging out there in the breeze. Here they’re broadcasting something in a language I do not know. Hebrew perhaps?

Nearing the very top we find the once mighty WMCA at 570kHz. Once a top 40 giant, then a pioneering talk radio station in New York, WMCA is now it’s a lowly Christian outlet with a lot of brokered hours up for grabs. This is some kind of religious self-help talk show, featuring a woman complaining about her sister making the rest of her family miserable in the name of Jesus.

    “There’s something wrong, isn’t there?”

The answer of course is “yes.” Her sister reminds me a little of a certain scary relative my family tries to avoid. And it seems like a good place to close as well– because more significantly, there was something wrong with 2009 too, wasn’t there?. After that one night a year ago, when it was new, it wasn’t much of a "happy year.” And it seems stupid has become the new smart. At least we have football. And Jesus.

But I think things are going to get better. I really do. But I’m not counting on 2010. At least not yet. It certainly didn’t start out so well.  Maybe by 2012 will bring some good luck for us. And from what I understand, a lot of people are looking forward to that year anyway.

Meanwhile, I hope to get back to you soon. And to get another post up where before so much time goes by next time.

I suspect if you’ve gotten this far, that you might just have more than a passing interest in radio. (And if you got this far by skimming over this post, maybe might wanna read this. Or at least look it over…) And in closing, there’s two things I’d like to mention. For one, the Winter SWL Fest is coming up soon in Kulpsville, PA (March 5 & 6), which is a completely unique and entertaining way to spend a weekend. I certainly recommend it. I had a lotta fun there last year.

Also, if your DXing habit fell by the wayside during the interminable solar minimum over the last couple years you might wanna dust off your old receiver and try scanning around again some time. The sunspots are back! And although I haven’t been able to do much serious monitoring lately, I have noticed my portables seem rather lively lately when I’ve taken the time to sample HF the bands, with improved reception across the board.

Meanwhile, thanks a bunch for listening. And good DX to you!

Rust Belt Road Trip 2009 pt 1 (It Hurts So Bad)

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently embarked on a solo road trip from my Brooklyn to my ancestral homeland– The American Rust Belt. While I grew up in Michigan, my genetic material harkens back several generations in Ohio. And on my drive to my brother’s house near Flint, I had my new CC Witness with me in the car, which presented me with an opportunity I’ve never had. For the first time in my life I was able to record radio (or at least do so safely) while driving. Why was something so simple so impossible for so long?

So that’s what this post is all about. I’m offering you a montage of what I was able to find on the AM radio dial that Sunday afternoon as I circumvented Lake Erie on the interstates. It’s almost like you’re sitting in the car with me and I’m changing stations and carrying on. And we’re off on another adventure in amplitude modulation. I’m glad you could join me.

Unlike most major interstate highways, interstate 80 goes all the way though Pennsylvania without connecting to any of their major cities. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and a few significant metro areas are well south of I-80 and are served by other highways. Interstate 80 is just a fat transportation pipe connecting the Great Lake region with the East Coast megalopolis. While it’s a pretty drive with lots of hills and trees and road signs, without any appreciable population centers the long drive through the middle of the state is a rather sterile zone for medium wave reception by day. Of course nightfall would open up the DX possibilities, but that’s not what this post is about. This time around it’s the hometown sound. And it’s partly cloudy. Intermittent rain.

It’s not exactly a bandscan (you can’t change frequencies when the CC Witness is recording), but most of it was local radio captured as I zoomed through coverage patterns. It’s more like the previous collages I’ve posted from a road trip I took back in 1988 from Detroit to New Orleans. (I hope to get back to that again one day soon.)

And as it’s 2009, I’m driving through some desperate territory. Both Ohio and Michigan were not only hit early and hard by the economic downturn. But there’s been a hardscrabble vibe surrounding the American shore of Lake Erie and the Detroit River for decades. So many of the manufacturing jobs that once provided a good middle-class life for millions in this part of the world have been drying up for decades. This recession is just one more kick in the head. And while I can’t say for sure, if things would have turned out differently I might have stayed in this part of the world instead of ending up in New York. Despite so many strange but true horror stories, there is an appeal to Detroit that can’t be denied. It has an edge.

I start recording after I’d already been driving for six hours, when I was approaching Youngstown.

Rustbelt Roadtrip pt 1 (Northern Ohio and S.E. Michigan) August 23, 2009 17:48 
(download)

1390kHz WNIO Youngstown, OH – The Lettermen Hurt So Bad

We start with a small station that’s changed its format and call letters and frequency so many times that it almost doesn’t have a history. These days it’s a minor Ohio concern of Clear Channel Communications playing a canned format of safe old pop music, otherwise known as “America’s Best Music"” (or just “The Music Of Your Life”). While I must admit that I appreciate that these stations are still around (and are probably the most common music format left on AM here), these descendants of old-line MOR radio have all but disappeared in bigger radio markets. Yet, the appeal of this format within the 45 to death demographic still has some limited financial potential in markets that might not have ethnic communities that are large or robust enough to support more profitable brokered operations. And you almost never hear local DJs on these stations today. Sadly, this is a format an owner is likely to put onto a transmitter when they don’t have any better ideas (and aren’t willing to invest in any real programming).

1440kHz WHKZ – Cleveland, OH – A Christian Commercial Break

WHZK is one of three Cleveland stations owned by the right-wing media group, Salem Communications. And they all have nicely matched call letters– WHK, WHKW & WHKZ. Most of Salem’s radio properties offer either religious or political propaganda, or both. In Cleveland, WHK at 1420kHz carries Salem’s stable of “Townhall” talk shows, while fifty-thousand watt giant WHKW at 1220kHz (formally WGAR…) is a right-wing Christian talk outfit. And reflecting a lack of programming imagination and a poor local economy, WHKZ merely simulcasts the evangelical and super-conservative content of WHKW (with the exception of a few weekly hours sold separately). So in effect, WHKZ and WHKW are the same station.

And when those stations aren’t simulcasting scary shows like “Focus On The Family” or “Jay Seculow Live,” they fill the gaps with brokered programming from local churches and evangelical hucksters. When I come across this station, one paid program is ending and another is about to begin. We hear the tail end of “The Bible Stands,” presented by the Liberty Bible Church. And if you listen for the number, you might be able to call in for your own free “scripture portion.”

And speaking of tough times, aren’t you sick of people talking aboutstaycations” already? I’m not saying you can have fun around the house, but don’t call it a vacation. Yet, the chirpy announcer in this first commercial intones– “when you’re worn out and tired, what’s more appealing than going home?” So, instead of planning a weekend getaway, this Ohio mattress maker has a suggestions–. "create a luxurious retreat right in your own bedroom." In other words, buy a new bed and lay down. Give up. Watch TV. Have some wine. (I suppose if this wasn’t a Christian station they might hint at some other bed-friendly activities…) But more to the point, instead of spending some time on the beach or at a ski lodge, why not resign yourself to the same horizontal padded purgatory enjoyed by shut-ins, invalids and the brain-dead– “where you can relax and just be yourself.” Creepy.

And then you get something more modern– Internet dating care of eHarmony.com. I’ve come across their ads on secular radio stations quite a bit, but I don’t recall hearing anything like– “Do you ever feel that God has someone special in mind for you?” Hmmm. I personally don’t ponder god’s thought process in any great detail, but I guess some do. And a little web research reveals that the founder and brainchild behind eHarmony.com is a born-again buddy of the evil Dr. Dobson himself (Who knew?). Perhaps longing for an American theocracy is just one of the twenty-nine meaningful dimensions of Neil Clark Warren‘s personality.

1350kHz WARF – Akron, OH – A Minor League Weather Report

It’s the middle of a rain delay during an AA minor league baseball game. It’s the Akron Aeros hosting the Binghamton Mets. I guess it goes without saying that minor league sportscasters are probably aren’t the most seasoned announcers on the dial. And hearing them attempt to describe some slightly complicated weather patterns around Lake Erie (and how it relates to tarpaulin dimensions) provides for a little unintended entertainment. And if you’re interested in such things, the game was eventually called because of the bad weather. However, the Akron Aeros actually went on to win the Eastern League championship this year. Rah rah.

1420kHz – WHK Cleveland, OH – Kelly & Company Hate Barrack Obama

This is the Salem/Townhall rightist talk station I mentioned earlier. And as you can hear, a strong adjacent station is bleeding across the frequency on the CC Witness. I think it’s actually their WHKW transmitter at 1440kHz.

I was lucky enough to come through their broadcast zone and catch this snippet of their only locally produced talk show, “Kelly and Company.” And what you hear is more of the fear and smear campaign against any health care initiatives Obama may support, as well as childish paranoia regarding Obama administration “czars” driven by up and coming kooks like Glenn Beck.

Twenty-two percent of people under 65 in Cleveland have no health insurance. None. And who knows how many thousands more are under-insured. The Point? These two clowns can’t stop poisoning the airwaves with half-truths and nonsense cooked up to dissuade listeners from supporting reforms that could one day save their lives.

Of course, Kelly and Company is just one of hundreds of local and national programs participating in these scare tactics lately. Although a majority of Americans favor a "public option" in any health care reform package, on any AM radio in any town in America you’ll hear far more of these wild-eyed claims about "death panels" and "evil czars" than you will any common sense discussion of the issue, or anyone speaking in support of a health care safety net for all.

1040kHz – WJTB Cleveland, OH – 7 Sons of Soul song

I’m including this song in its entirety, because that’s the way I heard it in the car that afternoon. And after those clowns on Kelly and Company, it lifted my spirits a bit.

It’s the “7 Sons of Soul,” and from what I can tell this is one of their biggest hits– “Praying 4 You.” While I’m not a follower of any supreme being in particular, I suppose I’m as likely to pray as some believers (I just don’t picture a winged being or classic painting of Jesus). But all kneeling and beseeching aside, what first attracted me to this song was that it sounded a bit like Bobby Womack. And that’s a sure way to get my attention.

1380kHz – WDLW Lorain, OH – Mother’s Music Box

Here’s a sentimental little clip. Through most of the week, 500 watt WDLW now goes under the moniker “Kool Kat Oldies.” (Cute, right?) Yet, despite a number of format changes over the years "The Polka Express" has been a mainstay on 1380 AM transmitter since 1969. I’m not sure, but I think this the program’s host, Tom Borowicz, reciting a loving ode to "mother."

I’m sorry there’s not more of this show to offer, and it never comes in all that clearly. But when you’re moving along at 70 MPH you go in and out of the broadcast range of a class D transmitter pretty quickly.

1370kHz WSPD Toledo, OH – Cleveland Indian Baseball Game

While I’m not a sports fan, the sound of baseball on the radio gets the old nostalgia hormones seeping into my brain case, and I’ll bet some of you might feel the same way. In this instance, the Indians are up 2 to 1. And apparently, they haven’t played Baltimore all year. In the end, the Indians knocked in four more runs to beat the Mariners 6 to 1.

And now part two.

Rustbelt Roadtrip pt 2 (Northern Ohio and S.E. Michigan) August 23, 2009 18:27
(download)

1560kHz WTOD Toledo, HO – Dwight Schultz Goes Bananas

Oh man. It’s the “Monica Crowley Show.” Instead of the proclamations of Monica the manic-monotone you get to hear a character actor trying his hand at talk radio. It’s Dwight Scultz, who played the hapless Lieutenant Barclay on Star Trek. From what I read, he’s apparently even more famous for another eccentric role as part of the “A-Team,” but I can’t tell you much about that. I believe Mr. T was played by another actor.

Mr. Schultz has had his own internet radio show in the past (but it appears to be on hiatus right now). And I believe this fill-in gig is one of his first forays into real broadcast radio. While I haven’t taken the time to listen to his "Howling Mad Radio" podcast, the spastic performance here worries me. Will the rise of Glenn Beck encourage other up and coming rightist talkers to incorporate more hysteria and mental illness into their presentation?

Perhaps Schultz didn’t have much notice for this fill-in gig, or maybe he’s just buzzing through some “greatest hits” from his podcast to get some traction and attention in the real talk radio world, but this material is past its shelf date– mostly low-grade smear material left over from the campaign. And somebody should tell Dwight that the new TV sets don’t have all those blue, red and green dots when you snuggle up close to them these days. You’re dating yourself Dwight. And that whole bit sounds like something he might have adapted from some old comedy monologue.

While the earlier “Kelly & Company” clip dealt in exaggerations and ugly rumors, there’s nothing remotely informative about Dwight’s bluster. Just sensational jingoism and cheap emotional appeals packaged for simple minds. A lot of this going around these days.

1520kHz WNWT Rossford, OH – K-Love

Another waste of an AM transmitter, simulcasting a syndicated Christian pop format from at FM station, which also runs the same fare on four more FM repeaters around Ohio. The announcer is female and perky and plastic. But perhaps you’ll be inspired by her anecdote about how a particular singer was tapped by the master muse while in the middle of some household chores. 

1230kHz WCWA – Toledo, OH – The Festival           

Here’s some small town radio you can sink your teeth into. And I love the reverb. Perhaps it’s recorded at the actual community center. I’d like to think so. And the accents have that Midwestern flat twang I grew up with. After all, Toledo is practically in Michigan (But trading it away for the Upper Peninsula was really a helluva deal). But I digress…

It sounds like quite a celebration. Cold beer, rock and roll, and cheap carnival rides for the kids. And then there’s all those chicken dinners and lotsa pasta. And if that’s not enough, they’re gonna have that polka band again this year. All in all, it sounds like a church-sponsored party where a guy like me might even have a good time. I’ve been to similar types of events, and I hope you have too.

560kHz WRDT – Joey Was Eleven Feet Tall

Although this station isn’t owned by Salem Communications, it’s programmed with a very similar “Christian talk” format as their two simulcasting stations in Cleveland. And it also goes under the same radio brand name– “The Word.” There is just a short clip of some religious dramatization for kids. I think it might be “Paws and Tales,” a Christian cartoon that’s also a radio show.

As usual with these types of programs, there’s some wisdom lesson for children and the "moral" at the end illuminate how the Bible has all the answers to life’s difficulties. In this particular tale a group of “youngins” are constantly gossiping about a distant friend named “Joey.” And “since they had so little information, they just started adding to what they had… and before long they had convinced themselves that he was eleven feet tall and had a patch over one eye.”

I didn’t listen long enough to discover if the punch line was regarding “bearing false witness,” or something about how “gossip separates close friends.” Which seems like a suitable parable for so many teabaggers all clucking about on the web convincing each other that Barack Obama is a foreign-born Nazi Muslim Communist who’s preparing to put all the dumb white people in concentration camps. And have you seen that patch over his eye?       

690kHz – WNZK Dearborn Heights, MI – Serbian Dance Party

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is a Serbian show. WNZK is an ethnic brokered station that I always enjoy a bit of when I come back to Michigan. And something strange about this station, at night their transmitter changes gears and move one notch down frequency to 680kHz. It’s the only radio station in America that does such a thing. At least the only one that does so legally.

I hear lots of Eastern European and Arabic music on WNZK that I don’t seem to come across on the brokered stations back in New York. Just a quick break is all you get in this clip. Some fast music and a female announcer in between. Something about a “Labor Day peek-neek.”

760kHz – WJR Detroit, MI – Come To The Table (featuring the Real Gerber Baby)

The last grab from my first highway recording adventure, and the only radio station in Detroit proper. And much to my surprise, not only is the iconic baby food model still on the planet, but she’s live on the radio with WJR’s Steve Stewart! Of course, when you hear her ragged old larynx it’s difficult to picture that little cherubic face in your mother’s cupboard. But hell, even I was cute once.

And speaking of cute, this Steve Stewart character is just too much. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard him before, but enduring his saccharin glow-schmooze in between the seasoned croak of Grandma Gerber makes him just sound even more annoying. I say take it down a few notches Steve. Try to sound a little bit more like a human being instead of a non-stop ad campaign.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, WJR used to be a fantastic radio station. One of the greatest full-service radio stations in America, bar none. And unlike a few similar great radio stations from that era like WBZ, KMOX or WLW, the “Great Voice of the Great Lakes” trashed their heritage and commitment to the region for pure profit and partisan propaganda. And not only is Steve Stewart the most fake and friendly fool I’ve heard on the radio for years, but he also makes the programming decisions over there. Or at least he’s stuck with defending them. 

I happened across this particular column in the Detroit News the other day and came across some disparaging words about WJR’s programming from Dan Mulhern, the husband of Democratic Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, where he bemoaned how WJR "used to be a pretty balanced station that really gave people a sense of what is going on. But now, with their national and local programming, there is such a Republican tilt to everything." And why was Mulhern venting? WJR delayed a live speech from the elected governor to broadcast a talk by a bizarre county-level Republican hack. There’s your public service Michigan.

WJR was once a place where there was an ongoing regional conversation, where news and issues of Michigan and the Great Lakes were aired and discussed and reflected upon responsibly. And there was lots of great music and a regimen of informative and unprofitable features. More than any station I’ve known, WJR offered radio that provided companionship. But that was many years ago. Now your companions at 760kHz are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin– meanspirited and partisan talk monsters syndicated from afar. And Stewart’s response to his challenge is cynical at best– “It’s the sort of programming that makes money” he insists. And isn’t that all a radio station is about in the first place? Cash, right? What else is there?

Located in a Wayne County where almost seventy-percent of the voters are registered Democrats. And the registered voters in Oakland and Macomb County (the densely populated and wealthier adjacent counties) also lean slightly more heavily toward the Democratic party. And if you think I’m insinuating that WJR should shift to a progressive talk format, I’m not. I think a less political stance would make more sense for such a strong and historic radio station. And as it stands, the WJR transmitter is a fifty-thousand watt erect middle finger offering it’s profane message to all of downtrodden southeastern Michigan. 

While I may despair at so much scary ultra-conservative radio stations usurping the American AM dial, I’ve really resigned myself to the fact. The Fairness Doctrine (and the wisdom that once made it the law of the land) is history. But when an important regional radio operation that was once a font of information, wisdom and good music becomes just another conservative propaganda repeater it’s just a tragedy. Then again, maybe I’m just another strong personality with a strong opinion. It just seems like the more you love radio these days, the more it breaks your heart. Yes, it hurts. And it’s so bad.

And I’m glad you could join me for this afternoon of medium wave sightseeing. You probably won’t be surprised that I made some more recordings out there, including the trip home. As I recall there was a lot more religion, some sports, and more of the increasingly more vicious (and common) attacks on the authority and humanity of Barack Obama. I haven’t decided if I’m going to post any more of that. (You want more?) There’s already a number of interesting shortwave recordings I made last summer I’d like to go through too. And then there’s that New Orleans trip (and some New Orleans radio…) It’s just hard to find enough time.

And speaking of my summer radio recordings, I’ve recently encoded all the bandscans and airchecks I’ve captured over the last few months and dumped them all into the programming folders for my internet audio stream– "Radio Kitchen Radio." "What stream?," you might ask. There’s a link there on the sidebar on the right. The adventures in amplitude modulation there are yours to enjoy. And if recent statistics mean anything, there’s probably no waiting as you read this. Have at it. If you enjoy this blog you’ll probably hear something you like on the stream as well. There’s almost 500 hours of fun there.

I made a plea for more comments in my last post, and although a few did land on the blog afterwards I’m still going to come back for an encore. When I DJ I almost always take requests, and the same goes for the blog. What do you like to see (or hear) more of here? What do you like? What’s boring? I’m never quite sure what types of posts readers enjoy here. I so see which ones get the most hits, but that’s mostly driven by search terms. But as a blogger I’d like to know what regular visitors think. Should I post more  AM radio music? More bandscans? Shortwave? Historic or exotic recordings? Medium-wave DX? Or more of those kooky radio conspirators? I haven’t decided where I’m going with the next post, so I’m throwing it open for suggestions.

As you may have noticed, I really like being able to make most posts multimedia affairs, including radio recordings with almost every entry and occasionally a video or two. But I always wonder if people actually listen to these audio files, and I you might stream or download them. I don’t have a way of knowing these things yet.

And when I look at my stats I see so many of you in distant lands are coming to the Radio Kitchen, and I wonder if distant readers are looking for shortwave radio posts or for articles on American broadcasting. I am curious about such things. Just looking at my most recent logs I see people just today from Brasil, Germany, Poland, Russia and the U.K. have visited the Radio Kitchen. And a while ago I remember some of the people who visited my blog the most were located in faraway lands like South Korea and Israel. Yet I get very little feedback from outside North America. Do you come to the Radio Kitchen to hear American radio? Or were you just looking for hot pics of shortwave supervixen Melissa Scott? (If so, I don’t have any…)

The bottom line, most comments are helpful. And it’s always nice when they add more information or insight to the entry. And charity is nice too. I really do love working on this blog, and if there was real money in it I suppose I’d pound away every day here. But as it is I do what I can, and do I appreciate hearing from visitors now and then.

I’ll be back soon. Thanks for listening.

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 7

Monday, January 30th, 2006

Radio_shack_power_2 This post resumes where the last one left off, scanning the AM broadcast band in northern Michigan late at night August 23, 2001. I  recorded this at a campsite located on a peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan. Far from urban and residential radio interference and situated in the midst of a giant body of uninhabited water, it was a promising location for receiving distant stations.

For those who are interested in such things, my equipment was an adequate workman-like setup, using a Radio Shack ripoff of the GE SuperRadio and the Terk AM loop antenna. I’m not a fan of Radio Shack by the way. However, for many years their stores WERE practical dealers of relatively inexpensive radio gear– especially if you had the patience to wait until certain items went on sale. But as I mentioned in the last post, this has changed.

Located just 740 miles shy of the exact center of the continent, my picnic table was a good location geographically to scan AM broadcasts at night. And the time placement was significant too. This session of radio monitoring occurred at the late end of the summer news lull preceding the onslaught of the endless media storm of fear and terror that we still can’t get enough of.

On the hot seat that evening– Gary Condit. The spooky centrist Democrat from California suspected of murder had just faced the television scrutiny of Connie Chung that evening on ABC. You may recall, there was no issue more worthy of our attention at that time. You heard some of the talk radio discussion of that TV incident in the audio presented with the last post.

But before I get into this radio reception of that evening, I wanted to say something about the practice and appeal of DXing itself, and perhaps about the art of it as well.

Ge_superadio In writing about a relatively obscure hobby, like DXing, I guess I’m hoping these will primarily be read by people who would never do such a thing, but are still interested in lo-fi old fashioned mass media. But I’m trying to make sure I have an idea of what I’m talking about because these will also be read by folks who also search out distant radio stations (Many who probably know about DXing than I do). As I stated in my first post, I’m a casual DXer at best and it’s my amateur enthusiasm for the avocation that I hope to pass on to readers here, more than any claim of expertise or knowledge. And in writing about a little known and possibly dying craft, I’d hope that a few readers might expand their radio diet, and that others might renew their interest in fooling around this way.

A_happy_dxer Although I hinted about in an earlier post, I might as well be straight-out honest– DXing is an intimate act. It’s you and the radio. While it’s hard to imagine there aren’t people who DX “together,” I have yet to experience a significant journey through the frequencies with another engaged human being.

While there was a time when people sat around together transfixed to the radio listening to news, dramas and variety shows, but for decades radio has been reduced to a background application in social situations. If you want to accomplish some significant DXing you’re probably going to need to reserve some personal time to do any significant listening. Maybe you have friends who are very patient or are intrigued by a session of tuner adjustment and antenna manipulation AND all the strange noises that goes along with testing the limits of a receiver. But I don’t. And unless I happen to sign up for an outing with a DX club sometime soon, I don’t envision sharing this hobby in the future other than writing about it. That’s just the way it is. You may have noticed that the listening experiences I’ve posted here all generally begin after 11 p.m. In practice, I generally don’t get a chance to get to huddle around a receiver until after my better half and the little one hit the hay.

Super_909_1 In the end, what I’m saying that even if you have an interest in DXing, or have gone out and purchased yourself a respectable AM radio or shortwave set, unless you’re able to reserve some time to yourself in the evening to play with the radio (hopefully somewhat isolated from RF racket) you’re probably not going to have much luck with searching out distant radio stations. If you happen to be a loner without a TV, DXing might be a viable alternative to more traditional activities, like reading.

Also, like most geeky avocations, DXing is a decidedly male habit. Sure there’s exceptions. Some women read sci-fi and design software too. But you know what I mean. I saw a good illustration of this the other day. I was looking at radios on ebay, and saw an auction for a particular digital shortwave receiver I covet from time to time. According to the text, the guy had purchased this rather fancy portable for his wife, but she wasn’t crazy about having to "tune around" for the Shortwave stations. So now the radio is for sale, and the wife is much happier with her new subscription to satellite radio.  Me? I prefer to tune around. There’s no real adventure in punching up satellite stations.

Super_dxer_guy That said, there are many ways to DX. On shortwave, you can look at a schedule of broadcasts and specifically tune to the frequencies (many stations have multiple simultaneous transmissions), which is better suited to digital tuners. Or with AM you can hunt out distant stations you think you might be able to hear. Although I’ve had a some success DXing this way, unless you have a hot receiver and/or a great location you’re probably going to run into a lot of disappointment.

Or you can "tune around," and search out busy sections of the dial. I find analog tuning best for radio exploration of this kind. And obviously I like to record what happens. I consider every dial scan I glean this way to be a unique media archive, and strange as it may seem I listen to most of them a number of times. Like the slave of any bad habit, I’ve grown to appreciate the side-effects, the musicality of distant radio reception and the poetics of capturing swatches of broadcasting. Each recording is unique and an artifact of its time and place.

And speaking of the glory of DXing, I was honored to see that these posts referred by some DXers to Glenn Hauser (of World of Radio) and mentioned in his “DX Listening Digest.” Nice to know that a few serious DXer’s are actually reading these. However, Mr. Hauser bemoans that I made a couple mistakes on the log of my first AM DX post. Of course, he was right, and I made the corrections. However, there is quite a bit of outdated information on radio stations on the web, and it’s not hard to make a mistake when coming across an Dx_outpostunfamiliar station. Although Radio Locator is easier to use, I believe that this site has more accurate listings. In that spirit, I’m always open to corrections, tips, comments and suggestions via email. And comments are good too.

I’ll get back to shortwave listening (or SWL as practitioners like to say) in future posts, but for now I’m going to reconvene where I left off– back to the Michigan picnic table somewhere around midnight in August 2001. It was pre-Patriot Act America, and the headlines were full of Gary Condit. The last station heard in the previous post was clear channel WSB at 750 KHz in Atlanta.

Segment 2 – Northern Michigan Radio 08-23-01 (760 to 900 AM)  29:04

(download)

This dial scan begins at the tail end of my reception of WSB, but quickly segues into…

760 – WJR Detroit, MI

Trucker show, country music. No ID, but I’m pretty sure about this one. Then things get more difficult…

770 to 830 – (Hmmmm…)

Like I said, I’m fairly loose about DXing and rarely log my listening. And trying to ID the next few frequencies that I received at an unfamiliar locale is baffling to me four years later. I never thought I’d be writing about these tapes.

Young_art_bell It’s just after one o’ clock in the morning, and Coast to Coast with Art Bell is just kicking in after the news. Coast to Coast is an overnight staple on hundreds of stations, so between one and five a.m. eastern time it pops up on the AM dial all over the place.

Just turning the dial slightly from WJR, there’s a weak signal bearing Art Bell, and I believe this is WABC in New York. But then another nudge of the dial (or rotation of the loop antenna) brings in a loud clear copy of a replay of an ancient “Fibber McGee & Molly” radio show. And no amount of internet detective work has provided an obvious candidate for this signal. There is a station at 770 in Calgary (CHQR) running 50,000 watts which does run Fibber McGee and Molly at that time, but because of the two American clear channel stations at that frequency they have a directional pattern at night, and it’s AWFUL far away (like 1400 miles) and it seems unlikely that it would come in this well.

Art_bell_studio_shot_1998_1 Anyway, this is where things get a little loose, because I’m moving back and forth on the dial for a minute, instead of moving in one direction. (Probably trying to get my bearings and testing out my loop antenna for the first time in a promising DX location). What you hear is some country music mixed with a LOT of Art Bell on different stations. In this section of the dial, his Coast to Coast program runs a few 50,000 watt stations in this part of the world– 770 (WABC), 800 (CKLW), 810 (WGY) and also at 840 (WHAS). I believe that I hit all of those here and eventually end up at WHAS coming in nicely. The country station is clear too, and seems to be at 830 KHz. This IS a country station at that frequency in Alberta, but…

Going either unfound or unidentified in this part of the dial, two other clear channel stations I would think would be quite readable– 780 (WBBM) in Chicago and 83 (WCCO) in Minneapolis.

Correction from 02-10-06: I think I figured out some of what was going on here. Although WBBM is an all news radio station, they do feature an hour of old time radio exactly at this time on weeknights. They call it "When Radio Was." That explains the Fibber McGee & Molly. Also, the country music in the middle of all the Art Bell is likely from CIGM in Sudbury, Ontario at 790 KHz.

840 – WHAS Louisville, KY

It’s Coast to Coast AM, with the creator of the program, Art Bell. You heard Bell’s hearty reading of his commercial load in the jumble before this. Now it’s on to the matter at hand– a new crop circle.

Crop_circle_081901 If you’re not familiar with Art Bell, though the nineties his overnight talk show went from being carried by a small network in the southwest to become the biggest program in its time slot in North America. At some point on, Bell went from being a maverick right wing talk host to creating a program specializing in topics supernatural, conspiratorial and unusual. And did I mention the aliens? It’s all there.

From his compound in the Nevada desert, Bell was doing a five hour show five nights a week and a three hour weekend program by the late 90’s. And then when you consider that he spends some of his off time chatting on his ham radio, the guy’s truly a compulsive broadcaster. And he’s had a erratic career in the meantime. Bell has “retired” from radio three times since 1998, and has been through a series of bad luck and tragedies over the years. The worst was the untimely death of his wife just a few weeks ago. Bell’s show is now owned by Clear Channel Communications and as the Coast to Coast franchise there’s been a number of other hosts. These days Bell just does the show on the weekends and George Noory is in charge during the week.

Here’s an extended clip that’s typical Art Bell. There’s breaking news in the paranormal world. A crop circle has appeared in England that looks like the “Face on Mars.” And the message? “Soon.” The guest is non-stop chatterbox and fringe science guru, Richard Hoagland.

850 – KOA Denver, CO

Talk radio giant in the west. I believe this still the furthest west AM band catch I’ve received in Michigan. It’s not a strong signal and there are few stations pulsing underneath, but it is 1100 miles away. I remember once I was in Alabama talking on the phone to a friend in California one night. We were both able to pick up KOA at the same time. That’s coverage.

It’s a small dramatic talk radio moment going into an ID and spot break. The topic? Mr. Condit and Ms. Levy. Talk radio was overloaded with Condit outrage that night. Unless you were following the crop circle situation.

Cjbc_tower 860 – CJBC Toronto, ON

Sounds it’s being broadcast from a tower down the road, but it’s coming from almost 300 miles away. I’ve heard a wide variety of music over the years on this French language CBC outlet– jazz, rock, classical, and some great ethnic stuff. Tonight it’s some lovely French pop.

870 – WWL New Orleans, LA

“The wind chill factor was probably about ninety below zero. The fuel in the fuel tank …looked like Vaseline.”

It’s the Road Gang trucker show with Dave Nemo, which I believe was the first all night trucking radio program. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Nemo has moved on to XM satellite radio and he’s sorely missed on the AM radio dial. When Nemo was playing non-stop classic country through the night and talkin’ truckdrivin’ this was the one of the best listens when driving in the dark across the eastern half of the U.S.

On this night Nemo is taking calls from aging truckers as they share harrowing tales of sub-zero trucking. I could listen to old geezers tell tales like this all night. And not a word about Condit.

870 or 880 – (Art Bell again)

This station is another mystery to me. I believe it’s at 870 KHz in a null from WWL (picked up by turning the antenna.) Again, it’s the ubiquitous Coast to Coast program here with Bell and Hoagland continuing the update on the mysterious crop circle.

Bell mentions his website, which was an extremely popular and huge site filled with information on strange topics. Lots of pictures. However, artbell.com is long gone now. Bell took it down when Clear Channel/Premiere officially took over the show. Now they have their own site. For a while, the original webmaster was selling CD-ROM’s of Art’s website online, and I’ve even seen the whole thing posted on Usenet.

880 – WCBS New York, NY

Traffic and weather on the 8’s. Construction on the LIE, Lincoln and Holland look great. 58 degrees. Top stores coming up. Something about a congressman and an intern. Tell your friends!

890 – WLS Chicago, IL

Condit_levy “Chandra and I never had a cross word.”

It’s ABC News, and a little Canadian news as I dip into CHML a couple of times. ABC features their sound bites from Connie Chung’s TV inquiry. And even the ABC news anchor seems angry at Condit. It’s bad enough that Bin Laden has gone missing all this time, but why hasn’t this man been brought to justice by now? Oh yeah, the other big story– A crazy Ukranian killer on the loose.

900 – CHML Hamilton, ON

Hah! The lead headline in Hamilton? The Ontario Teachers’ Federation elected Hamilton teacher Pearse Shannon as its 58th President. Gary Condit is four or five stories into this Canadian newscast. And then there’s Bubba O’Neal, with sports.

More of this next week.

Thanks for listening.

(This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog.)

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 2

Monday, December 12th, 2005

It was heartening and reassuring to get so many favorable comments (and emails) after my last post. The topic at hand is the avocation of DXing– taking advantage of the extended range of AM & shortwave broadcasts at night and listening to discover what can be heard over the radio  from your location. For better or worse, it’s one of those habits most people dabble in when they’re alone at night. And most of us who participate in this habit have close friends and/or partners who would probably be bored to tears or just openly annoyed if subjected to the challenging listen of trying to read a far off radio signal.

Once in my room I was sitting with a friend having a beer and just for the hell of it I switched on my old Trans-Oceanic and quickly zoomed into a faint English broadcast from Albania. For some reason I thought he would be half as curious about the discovery as I was, and for a couple of minutes I was hanging on to every word trying to hear the news from the Balkans over the noise floor in my apartment. Then I saw the pain in his face, and shut it down and put the music back on. He thanked me.

Albanian_qsl_card While there’s no shame in it, scanning the AM and shortwave dial for sport and recreation is an acquired taste. You have to be willing to put up lots of static, whistles, buzzes and some really stupid and boring radio. But it’s an offbeat way to sample some free (and sometimes fringe) media from around the country and around the world. And when you power up that receiver you never really know exactly who, what or WHERE you’re going to hear.

Winter is better in general for DXing the broadcast bands, and lately I’ve been getting better than usual reception. Since I recorded this scan of the NY upstate AM dial in late November, I’ve gotten strong readable broadcasts in New York City from several stations that eluded me that evening. But the reality is that every night is different That’s part of what makes it interesting.

Radio_locator_clock_1By the way, if you’re interested in playing along at home, let me pass along a few links. Years ago, you would have to invest in a few books or magazines to have the information to track down unknown and identified radio stations. Nowadays the internet offers up plenty of handy data.

Probably the most important site for tracking down AM & FM stations is the “Radio Locator.” You can search stations by city, frequency or call letters. The advanced search gives you more options. It’s damn thorough. Through this site you can access links to the station, webstreams and even look at coverage maps. Another good site for mediium wave is A.M. Logbook.com. While it’s a bit counter-intuitive. and the Canadian and American stations have separate sections on the site, it is helpful to get a quick look at the wattage of each station when you’re trying to figure out where a signal might be coming from.

Don’t forget that computers give off plenty of RF that interferes with radio reception. If you’re looking for information in real time you might be better off taping your reception and looking it up later, or at least keeping your radio across the room when you’re browsing on the net for information.

As I did last week, I’m going to go through the dial in text and offer an MP3 of the recording. Last week covered the beginning of the AM dial at 530 and ended at 750 KHz. It was recorded in the November 26, in the Hudson Valley just after midnight. I was using a 1980’s Sony analog portable, the ICF-7600A. This week I’ll start where I left off and work my way to 950 KHz.

Speaking of that, I should emphasize that I am not an expert or authority as far as DXing or the science of radio. I just fool around with a few relatively inexpensive radios now and then (and occasionally archive the results). Some of you who commented on the previous post are obviously a bit more serious about this stuff, and I really appreciate your feedback. And more importantly I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to read these posts.

TransoceanicThings like picking up AM stations in Europe and Africa from North America has so far eluded me, but it sounds like fun. And I should add that like any hobby, having the right tools can make all the difference. There are many more advanced receivers (and antennas) that I fantasize about playing with one day (from big old “boat anchor” tube equiped table top receivers to contemporary  computer based radios). But what I’d like to emphasize is that listening to the radio as an explorer doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment, money or expertise. All it takes is an interest, some curiosity and a sensitive receiver.

As I said last week, I recommend an analog receiver for deeply sampling the AM and shortwave bands, at least for those on an entry level. Ebay is a great place to look for used radios, just because there aren’t many powerful radios with analog tuning being made these days. Well, actually I know of one pretty good one that has a digital display AND analog tuning, but in general all but the cheapest shortwave radios are all digital these days.

Why analog? Physically turning a knob ever so slightly allows you to precisely tune in on a station with your fingers and doing so quickly tells you whether an area of a band is active by listening as you zip through it. The “scan” function on digital tuners is typically unreliable for digging out hard to grab broadcasts and physically turning a knob and getting immediate results is more intuitive than waiting at every “step” to hear each digitally rendered spot on the dial.

Bad_cc_radio_displayThat said, there are plenty of high-tech digital receivers that offer features unimaginable on analog radios. They’re just generally more expensive and aimed toward more experienced listeners. Speaking of that, there’s a digital radio out there that is constantly marketed on AM radio specifically for serious AM listeners. It’s the CC Radio from C. Crane, and goes for over a hundred and fifty bucks. I have one. While it’s a sensitive radio, it is a bit overpriced. And then there was an issue with the LED display eventually crapping out. For people who owned this radio for a couple years or more this was a very common problem. It happened to mine, and eventually I couldn’t tell what station I was listening to. However, they’ve since remedied the problem, and they even fixed mine for next to nothin’.

In going through the dial scan I’m posting this week, it’s made me think about what really makes good radio happen. And I think the most important element is “service.” When radio faithfully serves a region, a group, or even perhaps an ideology, it’s about MORE than just money. AndBbc_logo unlike television, a calling to service has always been an integral element of the medium. Maybe that’s why they the BBC doesn’t call their shortwave arm the BBC World “Network.”

And although DXing is fun, its not the best way to hear many of the stations out there that still carry on a tradition of service. While driving around in the great fly-over spans of North America, don’t forget to turn on your radio now and then. There are hundreds of low-power (and often low-profit) radio stations that continue to carry on a useful relationship with their listenership. Really local media is hard to find these days, and now and then you’ll find radio stations that are still dedicated to working with and for the communities within reach of their broadcasts.

I’d like to add that feedback and email is welcome. If you’ve been (or will be) scanning the medium or shortwave bands and have MP3 archives I might be interested in hearing and/or posting your audio adventures. Drop me an email.

Meanwhile, here is the continuation of my casual scan of the AM dial starting at 760 KHz, going up to 950. It’s not spectacular, but it did happen.

Segment 2 – Hudson Valley AM Radio 11-25-05 (760 to 950 AM)  17:45

(download)

760 – WJR Detroit, MI

This station has a helluva signal. Even though it’s snug up against WABC here in New York at 770, it’s still quite readable in the city. Growing up near Detroit decades ago, WJR seemed like Michigan’s official station in a very local and sophisticated way that’s hard to imagine today. It’s the station every grownup seemed to listen to. As a kid (with a rock and roll infected mind at the time) WJR seemed a little stodgy back then. But in retrospect it was really quite a radio station.

They called it "The Great Voice of The Great Lakes," and WJR really had an impressive air roster years ago– articulate gentlemen like J.P McCarthy and Karl Haas, sophisticated music and legendary announcer Ernie Harwell announcing the Tigers play by play. It was friendly, informative and adult radio on a commercial AM station. I guess people go to public radio (which is usually on FM) for this kind of Wjr_at_the_fisher_buildingformat now, but it’s not quite the same. The combination of professionalism, authority, warmth and entertainment that the great full-service AM stations of the past offered their listeners is rare enough anywhere on the dial these days, but a station offering almost all locally produced content and serving an entire region (instead of just promoting that it is) is almost completely a thing of the past. (A vintage video promoting WJR in its heyday is available for download here.)

(If you happen to have any interesting old recordings of WJR, especially Jay Robert’s “Night Flight 760,” I’d might like to swap airchecks with you. Drop me an email.)

Drlaura_2Today, WJR is just another Disney owned right wing news/talk station, like WABC or WLS (Once great stations as well.) And on this night I’ve run across Dr. Laura on WJR. Either she’s your “stay at home doctor,” or the most humorless bitch on the radio, either way Dr. Laura Schlessinger is ultimately a sadistic egomaniac who has no business offering help to strangers on the radio. Notice that even when she’s offering good advice for a change (telling a mother to ease up on disciplining her toddler into a swimming career) she still needs to berate the mother for bad parenting.

770 – WABC NYC

I’m not sure what this is, but they’re talking about George Best, an incredible soccer player who was done in by some bad habits. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out what they were selling. Commercials are offensive enough, infomericials are the ultimate in media prostitution. In a sense, it’s even worse than the Republican propaganda they broadcast all day long. Especially when you’re talking about a legacy station and frequency like WABC. But that’s exactly how WABC squanders their Friday overnight hours, with useless PAID programming. It’s bad enough when a low profit and desperate radio outlet plays informercials to survive, but when a Disney/ABC’s flagship station that covers eastern North America yields to this kind of whoredom is irresponsible and sad.

780 – Should be WBBM in Chicago, but not tonight

790 – Nothing Intelligible

Thebig8cklw800 – CKLW Windsor, ON

Although it’s in Canada, CKLW is the other major clear channel AM station in the Detroit market. Once a legendary North American rock/top 40 station, CKLW is now a talk station, specializing in advice, health and local issues. It’s soft around the edges, but refreshing compared to a conservative Disney propaganda outlet.The topic in this clip: Gall Bladders. Hey, they’re important!

810 – WGY Schenectady, NY

it’s the Albany area’s only clear channel AM station (also owned by Clear Channel Communications). And this is a bit from “The Phil Hendrie Show.” Although Hendrie isn’t on the air in New York City, he’s a national host with a unique approach to talk radio (WFMU featured his work on “Aircheck,” which you can hear with this link). Actually he has one real trick, and he does it well. Hendrie regularly has obnoxious guests who say outrageous things, and then he gets people to call up and argue with the guests. What makes it unique, is that Hendrie is the host and also pretends to be guest at the same time (deftly switching between the big radio microphone as himself and then to telephone and affecting a voice as he assumes the role of the “guest.”) Pretty funny, right?

I thought so too. Over the years it’s been a routine that’s provided lots of laughs to his many listeners “in the know.” And he admits his ploy on a regular basis on this show, but continues to generate callers who haven’t caught on to his puppet show yet. It’s a con game that almost gets some people to make fools of themselves arguing with a fictional character. However, it might be funnier if he wasn’t such an ass.

Hendrie_coulterHendrie’s concept of a radio show as a non-stop prank is a routine all his own, but lately he’s turning into a one trick pony. Like Lassiter, without his inherent humanity, Hendrie offers little or no good will on his program. What’s worse, Hendrie’s not a political talk host, but he just LOVES the Iraq War. I guess it all fits in with his radio M.O.– the big guy deceives and bullies the little guys, and everybody gets a good laugh.

While there’s always been a crude, misogynistic and even racist edge to many of Hendrie’s characters who serve as mock guests on this show, it was easy to assume it was all satire meant to make light of his “character’s” ignorance. However, these days it seems clear that his corral of fake guests are just permutations on Hendrie’s id. He gets to play the balanced and mediating host AND the rude and monstrous guest on the phone. Sometimes you wonder which one is really Hendrie.

Flood_street_1Like in this small edit caught in this dial scan. The “guest” Hendrie pretends to be alleges that his home has suffered some natural disaster and he making a big stink about how he’s not eligible for the same level of benefits as a Katrina victim. He even gets a joke in about people having to defecate in public in the Superdome. Funny stuff. And notice how his “guest” keeps referring to the New Orleans levees as dikes. I doubt Hendrie even knows the difference. His program is a showcase for ignorance masquerading as satire.

820 – (Not sure)

Don’t think it’s WBAP in Ft. Worth, but that’s a common catch in the Midwest. It’s the Police I think, some pop song. Sounds like it might be bumper music for a talk show, maybe a pre-show repeat of “Coast To Coast.” It ain’t WNYC.

830 – (A muddle of stations)

Might be WCCO in Minneapolis in this mess, but nothing ineligible.

840 – WHAS Louisville, KY

Another clear channel station readable across a huge chunk of North America. A news broadcast – An Iraqi cleric is upset about civilian casualties from a suicide bombing, ninety million girls around the world are excluded from primary school, and Japan is in the outer space business.

850 – WEEI Boston, MA

Sports talk. Maybe you like sports talk. I don’t get it. I think I’d rather hear a little more about Gall Bladders.

860 – (Nothing intelligible)

Another standard catch alludes me. CJBC, a French CBC station has been at this frequency as long as I remember. While I don’t speak French, I’ve heard a lot of intriguing and good music here over the years, and lots of French talkin’. But tonight, CJBC isn’t bouncin’ in like usual.

870 – WWL New Orleans, LA

Not coming in strong, but readable. The news– the Audubon Zoo opened that day, and apparently the animals missed the human visitors. The whole city must be missing human visitors. One of the most important cities in Americas will never be the same, and the human tragedy in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrna is still a huge wound. Somebody might wanna tell Phil Hendrie that it’s still not very funny.

WwlFor over two months after the hurricane, WWL was the flagship station of "The United Broaders of New Orleans." It was a cobbled together disaster network– a joint effort of Clear Channel Communications and Entercom Communications that offered an on-air sounding board for the community and up to the minute information on how to survive and deal with the tragedy. In all the horror it was encouraging to briefly hear radio stations super-serving thier community in a time of need. It’s something AM radio can still do very well.

Before settling in New York, I lived in Michigan and the deep south and WWL was a dependable stop on the AM dial. And as I mentioned in the last post, I was a big fan of the overnight trucker’s show, the “Road Gang,” Originally hosted by Charlie Douglas, in the early 80’s the Dave Nemo took over the Road Gang. Never a provocative host, Nemo just provided a nightly radio home for trucker’s on the highway, and a bunch of great old country and western for everybody. Overnight, the Road Gang covered the whole route of I-75, from the Ontario border all the way down to Miami, and a huge portion of the country’s mid-section.

KenworthThis station blasts up into the midwest, and was the perfect home for a national radio show. Eventually the Road Gang was syndicated to other stations, and then Nemo moved his new network to Nashville.  That’s all over. Nemo has left the broadcast band for XM, but his WWL program really turned me on to a lot of old country music over the years.

880 – WCBS, NYC

Shopping on “Black Friday” is apparently an addiction, or so says a Connecticut shopper. It has nothing to do with the products. It’s the “process.” Has there ever been a more cynically devised pseudo-event than Black Friday?

890 – WLS Chicago, IL

Once a huge Midwestern rock station, clear channel WLS is just another conservative talk station on the AM dial. It’s just more powerful than most. As it of its time as one of the last big AM top 40 stations and before it became a right wing talk outlet, there was a period of seat-of-pants tomfoolery that made for entertaining listening. In the mid-80’s John “Records” Landecker would open up the phones at night in between rock and roll records and you never know what would happen. These days, those same hours on WLS are a bit more predictable and a lot less funny. You get time-delayed Sean Hannity and another local Chicago program which also follows the day’s Republican talking points to the letter.

Wls_1That local show is “The Deborah Rowe Program.” And on this night Teri O’Brien is sitting in. She’s lined up “incriminating” clips from a C-Span of interview of author Bill Press for the hour’s entertainment. His crime? He’s a LIBERAL! And what’s worse, she says he brags about being rich AND he doesn’t like the Bush tax cuts. I’m surprised he’s not in prison.

It’s third tier Republican smear radio, and during the day the AM dial is jammed with these clowns in between superstar propagandists like Limbaugh and Hannity. However, there is usually some relief from the Republican blather on late night radio. Usually after midnight, the only neocon blabbermouths you hear are a few stations that rerun some from the day schedule. I suppose most Republicans are in bed. But it’s not yet midnight in Chicago, and the Disney’s 50,000 watt propaganda machine is still getting a few kicks in before the national paranormal chatterfest called “Coast to Coast AM” gets underway at 12.

Notice the signal is being chewed around the edges by a Spanish station. I believe Galaxyrocketit’s “Radio Progresso” from Cuba.

900 – CHML Hamilton, ON

Like CKLW, CHML is a lifestyle talk station, focusing on health, finances, relationships and local issues. But every night for a few hours around midnight they use their huge clear channel signal to rebroadcast old time radio shows. It’s a great idea that takes you back to the days when people used to sit around and watch the radio. As you hear, I’ve caught the very beginning of an episode of the 50’s sci-fi series “X-Minus One.”

In case you’re into this sort of thing, or you just want to find out what a “Moklin” is and what it means to be one, have a listen to this whole and intact episode of the show.

X Minus One – If You Was A Moklin (originally broadcast 06-12-56)  23:22

(download)

Meanwhile, back to the bandscan…

910 – (Nothing Intelligible)

930 – CKNS Espanola, ON

It’s 10,000 watts on the north shore of Lake Huron broadcasting into the great white north, but there doesn’t seem to be much information available about this station on the web. Sounds like contemporary country of some kind.

930 – (Sports)

No idea what or where this is.

940 – CINW Montreal, QC

It’s the pre-feed rerun of Coast to Coast AM. The show starts at one a.m. but some stations can’t get enough so they repeat some of a previous show until the fun begins. The topic: The Hollow Earth theory. They say there’s a sun inside the Earth and people and all sorts of stuff.
Although Art Bell is the original host and creator of Coast to Coast, lately he’s only been on once a week, and many of those are reruns too.

950 – WHVW Hyde Park, NY

Pirate_joe_1It’s an old rockabilly rave up broadcast just down the river from where I was making this recording. WHVW’s slogan boasts that they’re “The last independent, locally owned radio station in the Hudson Valley.” And they are. They’re also a complete anomaly. Run by former radio pirate and record collector “Pirate Joe,” WHVW reflects his musical vision– a format of old fashioned American roots: blues, jazz, country and all the stuff that would eventually evolved into rock and roll. It’s all run on a shoestring, but WHVW serves a bunch of upstate music fans with tunes they won’t hear anywhere else on the dial. I don’t know how they pay the electric bill for the transmitter with the scarcity of commercials on the station, but it’s been up and running this way for a few years now. It’s rare enough to hear AM stations feature music, but it’s extra special to hear such a spirited mix of raucous jukebox joy on one frequency. It’s a bit of blessing if you ask me.

Next week, I’ll either keep going on this dial scan, or I’ll dip into some samples of shortwave broadcasts. I haven’t decided yet.

Thanks for listening.

(This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog)